Illustration by Dina Mobaraki

Woman, Life, Freedom — The fight for women’s rights in Iran continues

Protests and strikes persist in Iran despite severe backlash from the government.

Dec 12, 2022

TW: This piece contains mentions of police brutality, bodily harm and violence.
Three months have passed since the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Jina Amini under the custody of Iran’s morality police and the start of protests which soon engulfed all 31 provinces of Iran. This article will explore the most recent developments related to the protests including false reports of the disbandment of the Morality Police, calls for mass strikes, the violence enacted against protestors — including children — by government forces, the closing of Arak’s cemetery to prevent Mehrshad Shahidi’s funeral ceremony, the execution of Mohsen Shekari, and arrested protestors in imminent danger of execution.
Deliberate targeting of women during protests
The Guardian has interviewed 10 Iranian medical professionals, who treat protestors in secret to avoid prosecution, on the nature and extent of injuries inflicted by the anti-riot police.
The interviewed medics have stated that the injuries women endure seem to differ from that of men; men more commonly have birdshot pellets lodged into their legs, buttocks and back, while women are targeted in their faces, breasts, and even genitals.
Another worryingly common injury is pellet shots at close range to the eyes of protestors. The case of Ghazal Ranjkesh, who was shot in her right eye, has especially gained attention in Iran. “The last image that my right eye saw was the smile of the person shooting at me,” she wrote in a widely shared Instagram post.
More than 400 Iranian ophthalmologists have signed a letter alerting Mahmoud Jabbarvand, the secretary general of the Iranian Society of Ophthalmology, of the intentional blinding of protesters.
Iranian authorities have also increased surveillance at hospitals. A doctor from a hospital in Shiraz said that a new security guard had been stationed outside the emergency ophthalmology department late last month. “He controlled whoever was entering and exiting the emergency ophthalmology department, and he asked to see our identity cards and tags each time. It was the first time I saw this happening in the hospital. It looked like this increase in surveillance happened after a large number of protesters with eye injuries were admitted,” said the doctor.
False reports of the disbanding of the Morality Police
Under Article 638 of Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, women who don’t observe the Islamic hijab in public face a prison sentence that can range from 10 days to 2 months, or must pay a fine. The enforcers of these mandatory hijab laws have had many names over the years, such as “committee”, “moral security police”, and since 2006, the Morality Police.
During a press conference on Dec. 3, Iran’s Attorney-General, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, remarked: "The morality police has nothing to do with the judiciary, and it was disbanded from the same place it was established in the beginning. The judiciary will continue to monitor the behaviors of society.” Media outlets have widely considered this comment to confirm the dissolvement of the Morality Police. However, Iranian state media has since denied these claims. It should also be noted that even without the Morality Police, Iran’s mandatory hijab laws would still remain in place and due to no legislative changes, they would be enforced under a different name.
According to Iranwire, during the days that followed the Attorney-General’s comments, there have been reported cases of legal action against defiers of the hijab laws. For example, a shop in Almas Commercial Complex in Tehranpars was closed by judicial order due to pictures circulating of its female staff “failing to respect the religious hijab.”
Three-Day Mass Strikes
For three days, from Dec. 5 to 7, mass strikes were observed in almost all major cities. Dec. 7 is an especially important date as it is recognized as Student Day in Iran. This day commemorates the murder of three students from the University of Tehran by Pahlavi-era police as a result of police crackdown on protests against Richard Nixon's official visit to Iran, then U.S. Vice President, in 1953.
During the three-day period, stores closed their doors, truck drivers abstained from their work, and some petrochemical workers were also seen joining the strikes. Some students also didn’t attend their universities, or held sit-ins and protests at their campuses.
According to HRANA, in total, up until now, markets in 53 cities have gone on strike 163 times by closing their businesses. Places of work and study have gone on strike 110 times in 33 cities through sit-ins and gatherings. There have also been 43 counts of protests in 14 cities which involved abstaining from work or study.
Children killed by Armed Police
HRANA confirms that at least 68 children have been killed during the protests. Children represent 14 percent of the overall deaths of protesters and bystanders according to Amnesty International.
16-year-old Nika Shakarami disappeared after attending a protest on Sep. 20. Her family was informed of her death 10 days after. Nika’s family members reported fractures on her skull which were most likely caused by a baton. Afterward, her body was stolen from the family by Iranian authorities and buried in Hayat ol Gheyb village against her family’s wishes in order to avoid protests during the funeral process.
Nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak and his family were driving by a protest in the city of Izeh, as bystanders, when plainclothes police officers repeatedly shot at their car and killed Kian. The family refused to send his body to the morgue and instead kept it covered in ice in their family home due to numerous past cases of the bodies of protestors being stolen from morgues by security forces to prevent protests at their funerals.
Seven-year-old Hasti Narouei is one of the many victims of Zahedan’s “Bloody Friday”. Various human rights organizations have confirmed that at least 100 people were killed on Bloody Friday in Zahedan. So far, the identities of 16 children have been verified. Hasti Narouei is one of these children, who was killed after a tear gas canister was shot at her head.
Closing Arak’s Cemetery
19-year-old Mehrshad Shahidi was killed on Oct. 27 due to baton hits to the head. Arak’s cemetery was announced to be closed on Dec. 8 and people were discouraged from going to the cemetery. This date coincides with Mehrshad Shahidi’s Chehelom funeral ceremony. Previously, the family of Mehrshad Shahidi had invited the citizens of Arak to his Chehelom.
Chehelom, meaning “40th”, refers to the 40th day after someone’s death. It is an important date for Iranians, who hold funeral ceremonies on that day.
Mohsen Shekari and other protestors in danger of execution
23-year-old Mohsen Shekari was executed on the morning of Dec. 8 after being convicted of blocking the main rohran during a protest, injuring a member of Iran’s basij militia, and Moharebeh (“Waging war against God”).
Norway-based group Iran Human Rights has stated that Shekari had been "denied access to his lawyer throughout the interrogation phase [and] legal proceedings."
Mohsen Shekari’s trial, arrest and execution took less than two and a half months.
Regarding the issuance and execution of the death sentence of Mohsen Shekari, Mohammad Hossein Saket, a retired judge and lawyer, said: "There are no elements of Moharebeh in this case, and certainly the verdict in this case was not execution."
The former advisor of the Supreme Court stated that "Mohsen Shekari's accusations did not result in murder, but we are faced with a harsh and unacceptable sentence," adding: "We are facing a matter that takes the life of a human being, issuing a verdict with this haste is not understandable for me personally.”
In the past, social media attention to Iranian protestors awaiting execution successfully delayed or changed their sentences. For example, Mohammad Rajabi, Saeed Tamjidi, and Amir Hossein Moradi, who were all sentenced to execution after their participation in the Nov. 2019 protests, had their sentences reduced to a prison term of five years after an extensive social media campaign called attention to their cases and the hashtag #StopExecutionsInIran became widespread.
Activists are once again calling for people to use the hashtag to save the lives of the 28 protestors arrested on false charges and sentenced to death in hasty sham trials.
Correction: 23 January 2023. A previous version of this article mentioned Ronald Reagan as the U.S. representative visiting Iran in 1953 when police crackdown on protests against the visit led to the death of three students. The name has now been corrected to Richard Nixon.
The name of the author has been removed for privacy and safety purposes. Email them at
gazelle logo